Behind the Door

Our backyard is a kaleidoscope of birds. Ana adores them and loves to keep them happily fed throughout the winter. Yesterday, we lost one. I was at my desk, writing, when I caught a split-second flurry of motion out of the corner of my eye, followed by a loud whump! against my office window. I got up and walked over to look out. There, on the frigid snowy ground beneath my window, it was. A little Carolina wren, perhaps spooked by one of our local Red-tailed Hawks, had flown headlong into my window and knocked itself out. I don’t know if it was the force of the blow that killed it, or if it was just so cold outside (it has been back-to-back sub-zero days up here) that it couldn’t quite recover from its stunned state. Watching, I saw its little heartbeat, no bigger than the depression of a tiny sugar spoon pushing out against its chest – thoomp, thoomp, thoomp … thoomp … thoomp. I had an impulse to rush outside and around to where it lay. But what would I have done? Mouth-to-beak? I stayed glued in place, watching. Thoomp. And then the little bird was still. The moment felt ineffable, poignant, but also mysterious. It seemed to me that my Carolina wren had slipped away behind a curtain. I thought about it all day. What happened to the wren? I tried on a number of words — died. expired. disintegrated. deceased. — but none of them seemed to fit what I’d observed. Today, for some reason, I thought about the nighttime sky. What if, instead of an empty bowl...

Love Trumps Being Right

Last week Ana and I had the opportunity to attend the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. If Philadelphia is the City of Brotherly Love, its neighbor to the south is often seen as the city where brother gets along with brother … well, like Cain and Abel. Yet for sixty-three years, politicians of all stripes (that is, of both stripes) have met together quietly once a week, and in larger numbers once a year, for an event of concerted  cameraderie. Yes, we live in a time of rampant partisanship. Yes, Congressional paralysis seems to be at an all-time high. (Or is that “low”?) Still, the prayer breakfasts go on, and the mere fact that this is so inspires me and reminds me how amazing an experiment is the country in which I live. Last month, a circuit court judge in South Carolina overturned the 1961 conviction of nine African American students who were arrested for refusing to vacate an all-white lunch counter or to pay a fine for their affront. Their protest and incarceration became a signal moment in the growing civil rights movement. The lawyer who represented the defendants this January was, incredibly, the same man who first represented them fifty-four years ago. The judge who presided over the reversal was the nephew of the judge who presided over the original conviction. As he signed the order the judge said, “We cannot change history, but we can right history.” The local prosecutor, who had helped initiate the motion, then formally apologized to the men. This is why I love this country. We can be stubborn, pig-headed, righteously indignant,...